Annually in our Best of Year issue, I present the stories that had the most momentum over the last year.
1. Wine, Wine Everywhere. Amazon and Facebook acted as third–party marketers for wine sales in 2013, and Starbucks, 7–11, Frontgate and Burger King, among other surprising outlets, either launched or were testing wine retail programs this year, showing that wine in the mainstream is becoming an undeniable reality.
2. Real Men (and Women) Do Drink White Wine. Eclectic whites like Vinho Verde, Albariño and -Assyrtiko—not to mention stalwarts like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay—were at the top of many wine lists and on consumer tables as wine lovers sought lower-alcohol, multiple-glass-friendly pours that were easy to pair with food.
3. A Challenging Year for Crops. Unpredictable weather in Europe, including spring frosts and summer hailstorms, have rendered the 2013 variable at best in Spain, France and Italy. Even Chile had frost issues in September, which was unprece-dented. Call to action? Stock up on cellar-worthy 2010s from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône Valley, and do it soon.
4. Social Media and Wine. 2013 saw every major wine producer, importer and media outlet using -social media such as Twitter and Facebook heavily to promote themselves and overall wine education and consumption. Even traditionalists accepted the necessity, a reflection that wine culture is living very prominently in the digital space.
5. Wine as Exploration. New wine-producing regions—sometimes in unlikely places—continued to crop up in 2013, proving that wine is truly a global affair. In exotic locales like mainland China, central Brazil and Baja, Mexico, as well as closer-to-home Virginia, plantings increased, while eclectic wines from unique places (think sparklers from Tasmania and orange wines from Slovenia) were au courant in wine bars across the country.
6. Central Coast, the “Other” California. While iconic regions like Napa and Sonoma continued to lead the pack for American wine drinkers, 2013 was the year of alternative regions, like Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and Monterey, with balanced, food-friendly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Rhône-style blends catching the attention of critics and consumers worldwide.
7. Americans Reach Into Their Wallets for Italian Wine. Italy remained the top wine exporter to the U.S. in 2013, and statistics showed consumers paying for better quality Italian wines than ever before, from Brunello to Barolo and beyond.
8. China’s Wine Growth Slows. An emerging middle-class passionate about wine continued to drive domestic and international wine consumption on the mainland and Hong Kong this year, but Chinese government warnings about conspicuous consumption, among other factors, seemed to slow the explosive expansion in the second half of the year.
9. Bordeaux Gets Approachable/Turns Back to the States. Long focused on the U.K. market and recently distracted by Asia, Bordeaux turned its attention to America in 2013, offering traditional bottlings as well as value wines that introduced the region to new, younger drinkers, and refreshed the connection to existing fans.
10. Natural/Organic Wine Goes (More) Mainstream. Consumer interest in what defines a natural/organic/biodynamic wine grew, and retail outlets and wine lists across the country reflected the growing trend in 2013, adding these bottles to their offerings. Producers reacted too, more actively promoting their (sometimes debatable) claims to being part of the category.
Many of these trends are reflected in this issue’s annual list of The Enthusiast 100, culled from more than 16,500 wines reviewed this year by our global tasting panel. Beyond the high scores, they represent notable quality, good pricing, availability and of course, uniqueness. Top-tier spirits and beers are addressed in this issue too, with our Top 50 Spirits and Top 25 Beers lists, selected from this year’s extensive tastings by our expert reviewers.
Also not to be missed: our 2013 Wine Star Awards winners; how to pair winter food with white wines; exquisite cooking classes in California’s wine country and Portugal’s trend-driving wine dynamos.